When the Utah Jazz drew the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs last season, it probably wasn’t going to end well.
The Spurs were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak at the time. (The streak eventually reached 20 games before the Oklahoma City Thunder snapped the streak.) The Spurs bested their opponents by nearly 18 points per game in two weeks of play. Their top-ranked offense scored 114.7 points per game.
It was an inevitable onslaught of passing and 3-point shooting that Utah, last season’s 27th ranked 3-point shooting team, could not match.
The series did not surprise: San Antonio did away with the eighth-seeded Jazz in four games by an average margin of 16 points, which actually lowered the Spurs’ margin of victory.
Utah added veteran point guard Mo Williams, guard Randy Foye and small forward Marvin Williams to the rotation. Last season’s starter, Devin Harris, was traded to the Hawks in the offseason. The usual suspects, namely the packed frontcourt duo of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, are still on the roster.
Even despite lacking scoring threats on the perimeter, Utah was the sixth most efficient offense in the league, scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions. Their frontcourt depth, which allowed them to sustain a top 10 finish in both efficiency and field goal percentage, drew fouls at an elite rate while nearly converting a third of their misses into offensive rebounds. These offensive rebounds were an essential part of the offense.
The Jazz are a flawed team — they could use a trade that frees up either Favors or Kanter, provided they improve their guard/wing rotation — but a playoff caliber one at that.
That, of course, likely isn’t good enough to beat the Spurs.
Interior offense/defense: The Jazz generally have an easier time scoring inside than most teams. Jefferson, specifically, is one of the dominant post players in the league.
Against the Spurs, who limited the Thunder to 24 points in the paint Thursday, Utah may be hard pressed to score as easily. San Antonio’s philosophy centers around limiting attempts at the rim as it is. According to HoopData.com’s shot location data, the Spurs have been among the 10 stingiest defenses at protecting the rim for the past five seasons.
Utah, whose scored 80 points of 199 points from the paint, will have to be up for the challenge.
No luck, Utah: Utah has lost 28 of their last 30 games in San Antonio. In four matchups at the AT&T Center last season, all losses, Utah was outscored by an average of 17.8 points.
Where to watch: The game will be shown on CW35 locally at 7:30 p.m. CST. It will also air on stations 1200 WOAI and 1350 KCOR in Spanish.
Injury report: Manu Ginobili (back spasms) will likely make his season debut tonight. He expects to play limited minutes.
Earl Watson (knee) will not play tonight.